The Chainlink

As is discussed frequently on the Chainlink, between Chicago, Cook County, and the state of Illinois, governments in this region can't even seem to muster the minimal funds needed to keep bike lanes painted and clear of dangerous debris. But they routinely manage to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars for road construction projects that are generally ill-conceived, mismanaged, poorly planned, riddled with enormous cost overruns, sprawl-promoting, and of real benefit only to contractors who are friends of politicians. As pathetic as the Navy Pier flyover has been and continues to be going into Year Seven (!!!), it can't compare in magnitude to the immense boondoggle that is the Jane Byrne Interchange project.

Somehow, since 2015 the cost estimate for that project has gone from $535.5 million to $796.5 million, and climbing ever more rapidly. Tentatively, the project will be completed in 2022 now, which we know it won't. Should I live that long, I will be most interested in seeing if it makes a single bit of difference. I doubt very much that it will in terms of congestion. 

I see that among the many floats in the excuse parade is the contention that everyone was blindsided by soil conditions on the site. Well, to the best of my knowledge, soil is not particularly elusive. It doesn't squirm out of your arms and escape. It was there even before the project began, right? Why, then, wasn't it fully taken into account in the initial planning? This is like the flyover writ large. What, there are structures in the way of the flyover? Who would have known?

It's the same as usual. Nickels for the beggars on bikes or walking and hundred dollar bills for anything with a gas or diesel engine. It's like the Talking Heads said -- we're on a road to nowhere. A really expensive road. 


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It's not a car thing at all, rather a politician spending thing, and the relatively small Jane Byrne matter just scratches the surface of politicians' multi-modal boondogglery.  To get only 5.3 miles of track and stations on the crime-ridden CTA's Red Line, politicians are going to spend $2.3BILLION.  (And that's just a part of $5.1Billion they're going to spend over the next 5 years.)

This is all after $280 million already spent on a new L/bus station at 95th street, $43million for the Garfield stop and $200 million for the Willson Street stop. What did we get after all these "improvements?"  Declining ridership.  

The annual operating budget is to spend $1,570,000,000($1.5billion) on operations, and collect only $585.7million from fares and passes.  The rest comes from advertising (~$42m) some investment income from the balance sheet, event rents and massive public subsidies through taxes.  In other words, riders on average pay about a third of the costs, the balance comes from the rest of society, primarily via politicians.

Faced with poor service levels and money lost out of their pockets to the state, federal and local politicians, more and more people make the choice to ride in someone else's car via Uber and Lyft, instead of the CTA (or their own car). The politicians have a solution for that too as we've studied and discussed: More taxes, more spending.  To stay with the music lyric theme, Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.     


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